The music world, especially the Funk and Soul world, including this very blog, were affected by the death of Norman Whitfield this week. A genius of Soul song writing, his jump into Psychedelic Soul with The Temptations “Cloud Nine” solidified his ability (and subsequently won the first Motown Grammy in 1968 for Best Duo or Group). From his beginnings as a pool hall hustler in NYC, his move to Detroit which eventually led him into the music game, Whitfield had unbridled enthusiasm for music. His ability to write songs for different genres, and his industry smarts made him a top dog over at Motown. His song writing alone, and with partner Barret Strong for the Temptations, single handedly changed the music game. With 10 minute plus songs, Psychedelic arrangements (not that they hadn’t been done before) of Soul, and a knack for using everything but the kitchen sink on a record, were quite the feat for that era. Responsible for other great Hitsville records like “Ball of Confusion”, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”, “War and “Smilin’ Faces”, Whitfield was also responsible for “I Heard It Through the Grapevine. This side charted for a variety of artists, most notably Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvin Gaye, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. His 13 years at Motown would then have him move to his own record label, where he would only strike a bit of luck with Rose Royce and Car Wash. After the 1980’s Whitfield was really not heard from much (although he did produce a track on The Last Dragon soundtrack). His ongoing struggles with tax evasion, that would lead him to be under house arrest (only because of his diabetes), were devils he had to deal with at the later stage of his life.
Norman Whitfield will be sorely missed, even if his contribution to the music game of late has been nonexistent. His years at Motown will forever be remembered, and his pure passion for Soul music, and music itself will go down in the history of the genre as one of the greats. Celebrate this man and his music, we here at Flea Market Funk will. Keep Diggin’!